When the Emperor died, he made a big explosion. From the Return of the Jedi script

[...] Darth Vader hurls the Emperor's body into the bottomless shaft.

The Emperor's body spins helplessly into the void, arcing as it falls into the abyss. Finally, when the body is far down the shaft, it explodes, creating a rush of air through the room. Vader's cape is whipped by the wind and he staggers, and collapses toward the bottomless hole. [...]

Just before that, Luke made an attempt to kill him, but was prevented from doing so by Vader.

I just remember that bad guy from the Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II video game also exploded and that I used to think that it would be the case for other Sith. That was until the deaths of Darth Maul and Dooku, who didn't explode when they were killed.

If Luke's attempt had been successful, would the Emperor have exploded? Or was the explosion caused by something down the pit?

  • 10
    Palpatine WAS shooting force lightning as he plummeted... could that have reacted with a piece of equipment down there? Is it ever established what that tower was? Some type of cooling structure?
    – erdiede
    Dec 9, 2011 at 17:37
  • 2
    In the Old Republic lore, Sith Lords do not explode.
    – Mufasa
    Dec 9, 2011 at 21:46
  • 2
    Maybe it was just a bit of Hollywood special effects to make it look good?
    – user3659
    Dec 10, 2011 at 3:12
  • 1
    @erdiede - worth an answer. I like that theory Dec 12, 2011 at 16:38
  • 10
    The explosion was to make sure the audience knew the Emperor was dead. In the previous movie Luke took a similarly long fall and miraculously survived, so the Emperor's plunge had to end differently to avoid confusion. The PG rating precluded a shot of his carcass at the bottom of the shaft with his bones pushing out into open air, so instead his slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe and we all knew he was dead.
    – Kyle Jones
    Dec 12, 2012 at 22:47

4 Answers 4


It's entirely possible that the Emperor would have reacted the same way no matter how he was killed.

Dooku and Maul, if you recall, were only apprentices. It's certainly possible that his death was the Sith equivalent of the Jedi disappearing corpse technique.

As DavRob60 pointed out in his answer, this phenomenon is called (by fans, nothing official from Lucasfilm yet) the 'Dark Side Burst'.


The shaft was a reactor shaft, so I always thought as some kind of reactor explosion. Not a dangerous explosion like in Star wars: ANH, but a small disruption of the reactors work.

@Jeff: Maybe it is his favorite way to get rid of his minions.. Star Wars environments are full of (poorly secured) reactor exhaust shafts: (1st death star: the shaft Luke and Leia swing over, shaft obi wan deactivates tractor beam..). Also I did not meant the reactor explodes; The body of the emperor exploded in a reaction with the core, maybe some antimatter stuff or whatever they have inside their reactors

  • 3
    I seriously doubt the Emperor would have had the shaft in his throne room if such things could happen easily. Besides, per the script, it was the Emperor himself who exploded, not the reactor.
    – Jeff
    Dec 10, 2011 at 20:37
  • 27
    Maybe it was the thermal exhaust port that he moved in his throne room on the new Death Star, so he could keep an eye on it.
    – DavRob60
    Dec 12, 2011 at 0:37
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    @DavRob60 - comment of the week/year :) Dec 12, 2011 at 16:37

TLDR, It could be it because :

  1. There were other Dark Jedi that exploded when they where killed.
  2. It's physically impossible for the Emperor to reach the Death Star's core within the time preceding his explosion.

While PhilPursglove's answer reminded me of the death of Joruus C'Baoth, I don't think it's related to Force Scream. His use of that power happened before his death.

At this time, Leia Organa Solo, Han Solo, and Talon Karrde entered the throne room. C'baoth unleashed a Force Scream, stunning everyone in the room. In a rage, he began to bring the ceiling down on Mara Jade.

His death happened later :

Mara Jade defiantly refused and charged towards C'baoth, guided mentally by Organa Solo. When she reached the insane Jedi, she cut him down with the lightsaber. He exploded in a blast of dark side energy.

This quote points to Dark side burst article which fit perfectly the phenomenon. The Mara Jade quote at the top of this article is also quite on topic :

Too bad we don't have a Dark Jedi handy we could kill. Remember that big blast when C'baoth died?

-Mara Jade in Vision of the Future.

As for the Emperor, his explosion cannot be caused by the Death Star II's main reactor, since it's size is evaluated at 900km. his fall preceding his explosion was a matter of a handful of seconds, falling to the center of it would imply a one hour trip at the improbable mean speed of 450km/h.

Another theory is that he could have hit something at the base of the tower in which the Throne Room sits.

The Emperor's throne room on the second Death Star was on the top of a 100-story tower located on the north pole of the superweapon.

A 100 story tower makes it around the height of Empire State Building, so something in the vicinity of 400 meters, which better fit the duration of his fall preceding his explosion. But I found some schematics that confirm that the tower sits on a "power distribution shaft". So, he probably hit something, but it most be something else than a reactor core. It was what killed him, triggering his explosion.

  • Better call. I knew he exploded but I didn't have my Last Command handy at the time to look up the reference... Dec 13, 2011 at 11:29
  • Providing link to question about whether Palpatine reached Death Star core when he fell down the shaft. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/148232/…
    – RichS
    Apr 1, 2020 at 22:31

Potentially but it depends on your interpretation...

In The Last Command, Joruus C'Baoth explodes in a similar fashion to the Emperor. West End Games, explained this in their RPG sourcebook by creating a Force ability called Force Scream, an involuntary explosion of Force power. So you could argue that the Emperor/C'Baoth/Jerec had all learned this power but Maul/Dooku hadn't...

  • Good call, I didn't remember that Joruus C'Baoth also exploded.
    – DavRob60
    Dec 12, 2011 at 15:49

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